Sunday, October 25, 2009

Friday September 4th - Into Belgium

I got to sleep really early at Valkenburg but was woken at 2am by people talking outside the tent. I stuck my earphones in (even when not plugged into anything they're quite effective noise blockers) and fell asleep again.

On Thursday evening I wasn't sure whether I'd be riding the next day - Valkenburg had seemed like a good place to stop and take a day's rest, but the night's disturbance had convinced me to move on. However, I still had shopping to do - I was running out of cash and needed a decent map and some AA batteries for emergency phone charging (still very little luck with the Solio). I found cash, and a half decent map at the campsite shop, but no batteries. Valkenburg was great for restaurants but useless for most other things.

I left Valkenburg around midday and set out into dark, cold cloudiness which did not promise a good afternoon. The wind had died down but that just meant there was nothing to blow the bad weather away. Before long I was entertaining thoughts of abandoning the crappy Northern European weather system and getting myself down to Sardinia for some sunshine cycling. I stopped at a bakery and bought a really horrible cheese pastry and a mediocre apricot one. The skies opened, it pissed down with rain and left me absolutely soaked.

I stopped at a guest house in the border town of Noorbeek for some lunch. Their tomato soup was good and I asked whether they had rooms available, but they were full. I left, disappointed but a bit drier and at least the rain had stopped.

The only way I could find going southwards out of town was a tiny road that quickly turned into stony track and occasionally light mud, winding between fields of cows and horses. I was pretty sure it would lead me towards Belgium, but there were no signs. Clearly they didn't want people escaping the Netherlands.

The track eventually met up with a paved and marked cycle path, numbered in the Belgian scheme and displaying the Belgian bike sign (the bike looks less like a Dutch bike and more like mine!) The path led to a road, again with very little useful signposting, so once again it was just me and the compass.

I reached Aubel at 4:30 - typically, the tourist office had already closed and there was no sign of any hotel, only signs pointing to two lodgings out of town. I followed the signs and was led several km towards Julemont.

The first, an auberge, showed no sign of life.

Outside the second, La Bushaye, I spotted three cyclists who I recognised from a pack of roadies that had passed me earlier. I wandered around looking for the owner and eventually a blonde woman came out to greet me. I asked her in French whether there was room - no they didn't, but we quickly established that since she was Dutch and I was English, we really ought to speak English. She suggested a couple of towns where I might be able to find a room but they were all several kilometres in the wrong direction and, it being Friday and getting late, I was starting to really not fancy my chances of finding much.

I'd had a bit of a miserable day and probably looked like I needed a bit of kindness and bless this lovely lady, she offered me a spot to pitch my tent on the grass beside a small coop of very shy chickens. Before I knew it the woman, Raissa, and her little girl (aged about two I think) were helping put my tent up, and her husband Jean was offering me a portion of the meal he was cooking for the other guests.

It turned out they were hosting fourteen of the cyclists - a crowd of them passed by just as I finished putting up the tent. One asked whether I was planning on sleeping alone in there, and I was offered a place in numerous different beds. Um, thanks but no thanks.


Dinner was pasta with tomatoes, followed by saltimbocca and then creme brulee - all were excellent. I also managed to squeeze in a bit of internet access and USB charging courtesy of the computer there.

It seemed almost too good to be true that these lovely kind people were there to help me when I was tired and fed up. I went to bed feeling a good deal happier and very well looked after.

Distance: 20 miles (186 miles so far) • Day 4 RouteDay 4 Photos

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